Choosing Poverty: Poor Boy Living Poor

For the past two months I have been conserned about my mother. Last year she fell on the ice, injuring her shoulder. It has bothered her for most of the year. She recently had surgery last September to fix the issue, however my mom's arthritis may impair the healing and not give her shoulder full motion ever again.

It is a cause for worry because the job market in Michigan has become horrible ever since the economic crash. While my mother's position at work would be secure because of her seniority, she realizes that even is she does heal, she could be out of a job - as the city looks to make cutbacks. Initially these fears were unfounded; then my aunt (her sister) was let go by the City of Kalamazoo after 20 years of employment.

Unfortunately, my family is no stranger to insecurity.

When my mother was pregnant and the father ('Our Father, who art in heaven,' not 'My father, Pietro of Bernadone.' 2C 12b) moved to California, my mother became kind of an outcast because of her decision not to marry him (I say 'kind of' since I never saw this attitude from my family, nor did I feel like the 'bastard son.')

Not having finished college and with no financial support from home (my grandparents were migrant workers) we bounced around a lot in my early years...until settling in Iowa. Despite her desire to provide a better life, there's only so much one can do when they have a young child at home. Even now, my mom's position at the County Courthouse requires no advanced education. Like many low-income families in this country, my mother is only a paycheck or two away from destitution.

Yet my mother is a survivor. In a recent phone conversation, I listened as my mother told me: "Don't worry about me. I'll be OK. I always land on my feet." Whether it's cultural or just the cencerns of an only son, it hurts to hear about my mother's situation.

As I contemplate on my current Capuchin life, there is a despairity that offends my current world view: I prepare to live a life of poverty when my mother has lived a life of poverty since she was born. Here in Novitiate we talk about living poor and entering the experience of the poor. All the while, my life as a Novice is much improved than my lifestyle growing up. I prepare for poverty, yet I enjoy the privilege of belonging to a community with financial security.

The question that keeps me up at night: Why did I go away to live poverty?

By defining poverty in the context of my experience, I sometimes feel separated from the Novitiate community. Who will help out my mom if she can't work? How will she care for herself as she gets older? Shouldn't I make sure she's stable before 'running off to be a Capuchin?'

Sometimes I sit silently with God, trying to make sense of this perceived contradiction.

Living in communal and evangelical poverty (according to the Gospel) is still a challenge for me: not because I'm new to poverty, but because I struggle to see my current life in conjuction with the poverty of my family. I realize there's very little I could do if I chose to leave. Michigan has no use for used car salesmen these days. Nor would my mother allow her poverty to come between me and a calling from God.

Perhaps the solution lies in my intentions. While others have told me "You got out of the car business at the right time!" I fail to see my life as a friar as a parachute. Since becoming a Capuchin I've been streched to do new and scary things I never knew I could.

Yet while I upload this article from Novitiate, I recognize that my mother no longer has internet because of the cost.

I don't know what's in store for my mother, my aunt, my previous bosses, or the many people who worry about the insecurity of their lives. I only know that if I am meant to be a Capuchin friar, I must stay engaged with the plight of the poor - even if it makes me feel guilty for abandoning the needs of those I love most. For when my heart stops aching, when my voice has become cowed, and my prayer is self-centered...that is when I have stopped caring about the poor.

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5 Response to Choosing Poverty: Poor Boy Living Poor

November 6, 2009 at 6:49 PM

Just a couple of thoughts. Like you, I think many (maybe most) of us come from families that could teach us a lot about what it means to be poor and how to trust in God's providence in the truest sense. It also seems to me that if you lose your awareness of the incongruity between your professing poverty (in spite of the relative security of your life) and the actual physical poverty of your mother and the many like her--then you have a problem. Somehow I think that nagging feeling of incongruity is good for us--keeps us in line and on the right track. I know that we, like many congregations, have really had to "tighten our belt" this past year or so and I think this has helped to make us more aware of the security which we've been blessed with.

It is, I think, an ongoing struggle not to become lost in the "safeness" our our lives and to remind ourselves that what we have is not for us but for those with whom we minister. Don't know if that makes sense but I do know that the awareness of what you struggle with is what keeps me focused on who I am and what I profess to be.

November 6, 2009 at 6:57 PM

I agree with your thoughts. Personally, I think my biggest issue of late, especially in the Novitiate experience, is how this year-long disconnect gives me a way to forget the issues of my family.

It's good in that I'm able to focus on my spiritual growth and my discernment; yet I feel there is a loss in that I'm so far removed from what is actually happening - both in my family and in the world.

Keep us in your prayers.

November 10, 2009 at 11:08 PM

Is your mother able to collect social security? What about disability? Aren't there any social worker Franciscans that can give you and your family some direction? Relying on God is more than praying. What does your superiors say?

November 10, 2009 at 11:19 PM

I can't get out of my mind the fact that Jesus hanging on the cross made sure that his mother was cared for, before he died.

November 11, 2009 at 8:15 AM

First and foremost, thank's for your concern.

My mother and I have discussed various scenarios. Receiving unemployment, applying for disability and other benefits have been discussions that we've had. And my formators have asked that I keep them informed, should she need assistance.

Even with these scenarios, it is still hard being so far away. Novitiate is a time of self-focus...examining the desire in myself to live the life of a Capuchin friar. Events like these hit that much harder, as I feel selfish about spending time on myself with others suffering.

However Jesus had followers and disciples, people he called his brothers. I lack such a following. But I can do very little about the situation other than pray and focus on my vocation...a desire that my mom has articulated to me. in spite of that, I have times when I think I should be doing something more to help her situation.

Please keep her in your prayers.